Pope Benedict XVI - Essays and Reflections on His Papacy

Healing Compassion

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley • Archbishop of Boston

Prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in 2008, much discussion took place about whether or not the Holy Father would address the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Once the Pope arrived, his words and actions made clear that he would not avoid this painful reality. In the midst of Pope Benedict’s second day in Washington, two of my colleagues from the Archdiocese of Boston and five survivors of clergy sexual abuse gathered in the chapel at the Vatican embassy for what turned out to be a historic and pivotal meeting with the Pope. We spoke with the Holy Father about the impact of the abuse crisis and heard his message of hope and reconciliation. For many Catholics in the United States, and members of the wider community, this meeting was the high point of the papal visit and one of the Holy Father’s most important actions.

During our very prayerful and emotional encounter with the Holy Father, we were blessed with an extraordinary opportunity to witness Pope Benedict not only as the leader of our Church, but as our pastor. The Holy Father took care to address each person individually and provided the survivors the time to speak freely. It was evident that at times they shared their painful experiences in a whisper. The Holy Father listened intently, often clasping the survivors’ hands, and responded tenderly and reassuringly. One of the survivors, unable to find words, conveyed her heartache through tears that spoke volumes with her sounds of sorrow. Though we would not hear the Pope’s private conversation with the woman, by observing her moving from tears to a calmed, smiling expression, we knew that the Pope had gently comforted her. Later that day, she shared with us that the Holy Father had offered his congratulations on learning that she would soon be married. In doing so, the Holy Father helped her to experience a healing moment and to see a future that would hold the promise of renewed hope and joy.

 

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“Pope Benedict believes that peace can only come when we respect the fundamental human rights of all people.”

Virginia Farris